Born in a barn in 1909, Leo Fender seems an unlikely father of rock ’n’ roll. But as the man whose company perfected the solid-body electric guitar, his contribution to contemporary music cannot be overstated. Just take a look at the albums whose musicians thought enough of their Fender guitar to put it on the cover: Eric Clapton’s "Layla," Bruce Springsteen’s "Born To Run," Jeff Beck’s "Wired," The Pretenders’s (Chrissie Hynde) "Get Close," Bonnie Raitt’s "Nick of Time." The list of influential artists who play a Fender is just about endless.
Fender’s first solid-body electric guitar was introduced in 1950. It debuted as the one-pickup Esquire before the name of the two-pickup model was changed to Broadcaster. But Gretsch was already using the name Broadkaster on some of its instruments, so the name was changed again.
Between names, the company made the most of its remaining Fender Broadcaster decals by cutting off the word Broadcaster so that only the Fender brand made it onto the guitar’s headstock. Today, collectors call these guitars Nocasters. Only about 60 Nocasters were made, which makes them extremely collectible, but by April of 1951 the guitar would finally get a name that would stick, the Telecaster.
The Stratocaster came next in 1954. Unlike the Telecaster, whose ash body was outlined with rib-digging 45-degree edges, the Strat had a sculpted body that fit players like a glove. Three pickups gave the instrument unprecedented tonal range, as did a vibrato bar that would bend the guitar’s strings when pressed. And instead of the Telecaster’s blond, natural-wood finish, the Strat was offered in a number of colors, including the iconic sunburst (golden-yellow in the middle fading to black on the outside).
Solid-body electric bass guitars were also a Fender innovation. The Precision bass was introduced in 1951. It had a headstock that was virtually identical to that of the Telecaster and a body that turned out to be a preview of the 1954 Strat. By 1957, the Precision’s headstock had been redesigned to mirror the Stratocaster’s, and that version of the bass remains largely unchanged today. The Jazz Bass was added to the low-octave lineup in 1960, and a six-string bass was offered in 1961.
Fender launched two other major guitar lines in the 1950s. The first of these was a pair of low-cost models, the Duo-Sonic and the Musicmaster, both of which were introduced in 1956. These guitars were for kids who wanted to learn how to play without having to shell out the big bucks for a Stratocaster ($274.50 for a Strat versus $119.50 for a Musicmaster). The other initiative was a high-end guitar called the Jazzmaster, which retailed at the time for $329.50. It had a rosewood fingerboard on the standard maple neck, and switches that let the guitarist bounce between rhythm and lead sounds.
In 1962, Fender introduced the Jaguar, which combined a Jazzmaster body with a Stratocaster head. The Mustang, an update of the Duo-Sonic, was added in 1964. Years later, Nirvana...
But the 1960s are best known as the decade when Jimi Hendrix did things to his Stratocaster that nobody had thought possible, from setting it on fire to playing wailing, psychedelic versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Alas for Fender, it was also the decade that the company was sold to CBS—for Fender purists, the years 1965 to 1985 are like a 20-year musical drought.
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The guitar hero in the roomThe Nation, August 29th
The Eagle's "Hotel California" came through with outstanding detail in all the instruments, including the finer percussion. "The Best of Sting 2011" was revealed to contain lower elements in the British singer's famously high-pitched singing and his...Read more
Mapping the Music, Style, and Gateway Feminism of '10 Things I Hate About You'Noisey (blog), August 28th
You could kiss cute boys in fictional paintball settings, gain early acceptance into Sarah Lawrence, and make your Fender Strat dreams come true. Or, install car radios—either or. But first things ... #vintage) The abundance of Letters to Cleo...Read more
Providence Red Rock ROD-1 Overdrive ReviewPremier Guitar, August 28th
While Providence has produced a wide variety of well-built effects over the years, overdrives are the company's strength. And the new Red Rock OD ROD-1—an overdrive specifically designed for single-coil guitars—is yet another brick in that foundation...Read more
Guitar thieves left most valuable instrument behindBrisbane Times, August 27th
"It's a beautiful old Fender; I've seen Slim playing it on videos," he said. Mr French, a country music aficionado who cites Dusty as his favourite artist, turned to guitar playing six years ago as a way to cope with the death of his wife. The 81-year...Read more
Fender Limited & Special Edition GuitarsSonic State, August 26th
In addition, Fender introduces two brilliant new limited edition looks for the American Standard Stratocaster--Vintage White with a tortoiseshell pickguard and rosewood fingerboard, and Aztec Gold with a parchment pickguard and maple fingerboard. All...Read more
Marshall 1958X 18-Watt ReviewPremier Guitar, August 26th
These amps sound and feel like Marshalls (even though Marshall's design “borrowed” from the earlier Watkins Dominator circuit, just as Marshall's earlier models cribbed from the Fender Bassman). This exceedingly dynamic circuit is perfect for players...Read more
Vintage Vault: 1965 Gibson Firebird IIIPremier Guitar, August 25th
In 1962 Gibson president Ted McCarty decided that a bold new guitar was needed to compete with Fender's popular Jazzmaster. For a fresh, all-new concept, McCarty sought outside help and hired well-known automobile designer Ray Dietrich. After 50 ...Read more
Eric Clapton's $1 Million 'Blackie' Guitar Moves to Times SquareBusinessweek, August 6th
7, and also features a “boutique” pedal shop, a team of craftsmen who will build you a custom Fender instrument, and 28,000 square feet of guitars, drums, keyboards, and DJ gear. Guitar Center purchased Blackie at a Christie's auction 10 years ago for...Read more